What’s left in the outfield for the Cleveland Indians?
The Cleveland Indians made the decision to non-tender Tyler Naquin, making him a free agent and removing one of the more consistent pieces of the Tribe’s outfield.
Over the last few seasons, the outfield in Cleveland has been a hodgepodge of names with little consistency, but Naquin was one of the more stable pieces. During the 2020 season, Naquin played the most games in the outfield, appearing in 40 of the 60. The next closest was from Delino DeShields who played in 37 games and is also a tender decision the Cleveland Indians will have to make this offseason. Franmil Reyes is technically an outfielder and 59 games, but is the team’s designated hitter.
So with Naquin officially out of the picture, what’s next for the Cleveland Indians in the outfield? As of now, the Indians have eight players on the 40-man roster that could play in the outfield, nine if you want to include DeShields. However, Reyes is on that list as well.
Going off what we’ve witnessed from the Cleveland Indians, the top guy on the outfield list might be Josh Naylor. After arriving in Cleveland he played in 22 games for the Tribe and would be the most likely to play every day with Naquin out of the picture and the uncertainty of DeShields. Naylor’s best games game in the postseason while his regular season numbers weren’t the best.
Next up would Oscar Mercado who was impressive in 2019, but regressed during the 2020 campaign. Despite the regression and some time at the alternate site, Mercado still tallied 36 games for the Indians in 2020, the third highest total among outfielders. If he can return to his 2019 form, or at least a shell of it, that would be a big upgrade for the Cleveland Indians moving forward.
With Naylor and Mercado likely starters as of now, that leaves one more spot in the outfield to settle which is a toss up. Depending on the direction the Indians want to go, a platoon could be in order. Jordan Luplow and Bradley Zimmer are at similar points in their careers and hit from opposite sides of the plate.
Combined, Luplow and Zimmer played in 49 games, but had just three home runs and 11 RBI while both hit below .200. This isn’t the ideal situation for the Indians, which is why some of the other names on the 40-man that didn’t have as many opportunities could emerge.
One intriguing prospect on the 40-man that didn’t receive enough of a chance in 2020 is Daniel Johnson. Johnson played in just five games last season and logged just one hit in 12 at-bats. However, what Johnson did in Triple-A during the 2019 season showed promise. With the Columbus Clippers in 2019 Johnson was able to slash .306/.371/.496 with 27 doubles and nine home runs.
The other player that could step into the outfield that has major league outfield experience is Jake Bauers. Bauers didn’t play for Cleveland during the 2020 season and had a disappointing 2019 season, but things can change. Unfortunately, his .226 average from 2019 might be enough to earn a starting role in 2021 given the state of the Indians’ outfield.
While those are the players on the 40-man roster that could play in the outfield, there is one more player that could enter the conversation. The Cleveland Indians have toyed with the idea of moving No. 1 prospect Nolan Jones into the outfield. A third baseman, Jones is blocked by Jose Ramirez unless he explores other positions. The Indians are hoping to try him in the outfield or at first base.
As it stands currently, the Cleveland Indians outfield will be abysmal at best during the 2021 season. To have a strong outfield, they are rolling the dice on all the positions in hopes that three guys emerge. There’s a chance that those three could be Naylor, Mercado and Jones or perhaps someone else surprises.
The point is, the Indians need to add at least one outfielder this offseason, otherwise they won’t receive much production from the position. Luckily, there’s still plenty of time to find a player, but will the front office and ownership be willing to pay for that instead of riding out the current roster?